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Ravens Want Playmakers, No Matter What Size They Come In


The Ravens know what a playmaker looks like. One knocked them out of playoff contention this year.

When Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown fought off two tacklers to reach out and spoil the Ravens' Christmas, Baltimore got a reminder.

"We need playmakers in Baltimore," Ravens Director of College Scouting Joe Hortiz said at the Senior Bowl.

"That's what wins you games, guys on offense that can make the critical catch on third down. To be honest, our season ended disappointingly with a guy that made a great football play."

It's not like the Ravens just now figured out that they need playmakers. That's what every team around the NFL is chasing. It's just that Baltimore, when compared to AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, doesn't have as many Pro Bowl-caliber offensive threats.

The Steelers have running back Le'Veon Bell, Brown and other big-play wideouts. The Bengals have wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert. All four of those players went to the Pro Bowl in recent years.

The Ravens, meanwhile, have never had a Pro Bowl wide receiver in team history. Running back Ray Rice went to three Pro Bowls (2009, 2011, 2012) and tight end Todd Heap went to two (2002, 2003).

So what kind of offensive player are the Ravens looking for? The Ravens aren't stuck on a certain size.

"If that guy's 5-foot-9 or he's 6-foot-4, we want a playmaker," Hortiz said.

"Doesn't matter how big they are, doesn't matter how fast they are, just a guy that can step up with the season on the line and the playoffs on the line and can make the play to get us in there."

The Ravens have lost one of those players in wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. He didn't have the size or the blazing speed (in his later years), but Smith just made plays, often times in the biggest games.

Baltimore has speedsters in Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, who each made big plays at times. Wallace's 95-yard touchdown was critical in the Ravens' regular-season win over Pittsburgh in M&T Bank Stadium.

Tight end Dennis Pitta finished with the most receptions (86) by an NFL tight end, but 30 tight ends averaged more yards per catch. Seven tight ends finished with more first-down catches and Pitta caught just two touchdowns.

Running backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon also flashed at points, but West finished tied for 17th in runs of 20 or more yards (five) and Dixon had one such run.

For the Ravens offense to take off, they need big plays on a weekly basis, and they need them in the biggest moments.

So how do the Ravens plan to find those kinds of playmakers, outside of looking for explosive athletic traits? Hortiz said it starts with what prospects put on tape.

"They have the clutch gene. You see it," Hortiz said.

"There are guys in college who, on third-and-7, drop the ball. They're open for a touchdown and the ball hits off their facemask. It frustrates you because you see the raw talent, but in the clutch moments you don't see them finishing and making the plays. And then there are guys that do, and you've just got to hope it winds up that you can get those guys."

Asked to point out some playmakers in this year's draft class, Hortiz started with an Alabama player that may have been the biggest star at the Senior Bowl: tight end O.J. Howard.

"Look at Howard in the national championship game. He was phenomenal," Hortiz said. "[Clemson wide receiver] Mike Williams in the national championship game. Those guys, in critical moments, are making big plays. Howard did it in back-to-back years. He was a huge, huge reason why they won it."

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